Omnichannel – What Is an Acceptable Waiting Time?

A clock is sat on a desk in front of a bored looking lady

Our panel of experts share their suggestions for queue times across different contact centre channels.

The Industry Standards

When it comes to average wait times in contact centres, a previous Call Centre Helper article has quoted the omnichannel industry standards to be as follows:

  • Phone – 80% of calls answered within 20 seconds
  • Email – 95% of emails answered within four hours (the better contact centres are aiming to respond to 80% of emails within 15 minutes)
  • Letters – 95% of letters answered within three days
  • Social media – 80% of contacts answered within 20 minutes
  • Live chat – 80% of chats answered within 40 seconds
  • SMS/messaging apps – 80% of messages responded to within 40 seconds

But what is an acceptable wait time?  The clue is in the word “acceptable”, and this is subjective – some customers are simply more patient than others – and it can also vary by market sector or by the nature and complexity of queries.

A good place for managers to start is to study your abandon rates and CSat results to establish a baseline for your own customers.

For more up-to-date wait-time statistics, read our article: Waiting Time: What Is Best for Your Customers?

Finding an Acceptable Wait Time Through Abandon Rates

To calculate a wait time using your abandon rate, it is first important to set an “abandon ceiling”. Typically, this is set at around 5% or lower. For this example we’ll use 4%.

Next, create an abandon graph / abandon curve by plotting your abandon rate against time.

Make sure that you create different abandon curves for different channels, as each relevant channel will have individual abandon rates.

Using this graph, you’ll be able to see at what time 4% of your customers have abandoned. This time would then become your target wait time.

However, make sure that you create different abandon curves for different channels, as each relevant channel will have individual abandon rates.

Also, remember that your abandon ceiling should be set with the image of your business in mind.  If a key goal of your organisation is to differentiate itself through service, you’ll likely want to lower your abandon ceiling.

[Editor’s Note – There is a good article on plotting abandon curves here: How to Bring Down Your Call-Abandon Rates]

Queue Management Techniques May Allow You to Increase Wait Time

Customers just want positive outcomes, and what really counts is how contact centres manage the perception of waiting across their multichannel environment.

With this in mind, here are three tips to improve queue management.

1. Communicate – Give callers an estimated wait time as soon as they reach the voice queue or display prominent announcements on your website or next to the chat button.

Colin Hay

Colin Hay

2. Give options – Suggest callback requests for voice callers and make customers aware of new opportunities to engage. If you’re offering webchat, FAQs or a transactional website promote them through existing channels such as in the telephone queue’s recorded announcement.

3. Use chatbots – Make virtual assistants the first point of call for customers on text-based channels, to offer a quick response. Just remember to ensure a smooth transition between virtual and live advisors to deliver a good experience that feels painless.

Thanks to Colin Hay at Puzzel 

Think About What Your Customer Satisfaction Scores Are Telling You

In some sectors, customers people will accept that they may need to wait a while. For example, a customer with a tech support query would expect to wait longer than one with a sales query.

So, how long are your customers willing to wait? By plotting Customer Satisfaction (CSat) against wait time, you’ll find some very interesting insights that will help you to answer that question.

How long are your customers willing to wait? By plotting Customer Satisfaction (CSat) against wait time, you’ll find some very interesting insights that will help you to answer that question.

Taking voice as an example, you may find that – as you have a queueing system that is interactive and engaging with on-hold music and intermittent, changing messages – waiting for up to five minutes for an advisor is still acceptable with the vast majority of your customers.

Once this timescale is reached, there should be an “exit” option, such as being able to leave a voicemail or request a callback. Customers are also more likely to be patient when calling a Freephone number compared to a charged call.

When Does Frustration Set in Across Channels Other Than Voice?

Here are some key things to think about when devising a target wait time for live chat, social media and email.

Live Chat

With live chat, the expectation is that responses should be near instant. The customer may have reached a point where they are stuck and in need of immediate assistance on your website, making a quick response key to offering great customer service.

In a live chat environment, being kept waiting for more than a minute would result in that customer leaving the chat session.

Social Media

Social media channels are regarded by many as real time, but dependent on the actual posts or tweets being left.

While it is possible for every single message to be sent to an advisor, it is definitely better to filter these to ensure that the correct messages are dealt with in the timeliest manner.

Spotting keywords, phrases or hashtags and sending those relevant messages to an advisor for immediate attention can be very useful. This should ensure that any negative comments are addressed before spreading and becoming “viral”.


A thumbnail picture of Atiq Rehman

Atiq Rehman

Email is generally accepted as being a non-real-time channel so slower responses are normally accepted. That being said, having anything more than four days as a service level for email responses is not an acceptable timeframe.

However, anything less than this – for most types of organisation – is generally accepted, as long as the timeframe is notified.

Thanks to Atiq Rehman at Business Systems

Consider Which Sector Your Organisation Is Part Of

NICE research has shown that people are least patient when working with their banks or phone companies, where over two minutes before getting to a live agent is deemed unacceptable.

People are least patient when working with their banks or phone companies, where over two minutes before getting to a live agent is deemed unacceptable.

However, in healthcare contact centres people tend to be more patient, with people waiting an average of 50% longer, highlighting that there is no gold standard for an acceptable waiting time.

So, businesses need to answer the question of how long is too long when it comes to waiting times. But how can they do this?

One way is to use an analytics system to segment customer journeys that are especially long before they drop out to an agent.

Abby Monaco

Correlating that data with the customer’s conversation with the agent can quantify how many of these long IVR journeys are resulting in negative feelings.

Likewise, sentiment analysis alone can help locate customer conversations with mentions of “wait time,” score them on a sliding scale from most negative to most positive, and present opportunities for further root cause analysis into what might be causing long wait times.

Thanks to Abby Monaco at NICE | Nexidia

Use Speech Analytics to Identify Customer Preferences

Thumbnail image of Frank Sherlock

Frank Sherlock

If you analyse customer interactions through speech analytics across every channel you can identify customer expectations on response times and channel preferences.

By analysing every interaction, you will understand why people use each channel. You can then provide the right resources to meet those needs.

Thanks to Frank Sherlock at CallMiner

Keep Live Chat Wait Times to Less Than a Minute

Live chat has many benefits. It is perceived as low effort and promises an immediate response. Many customers actually prefer it to picking up the phone. It is important that this expectation is fulfilled if we are going to encourage continued widespread adoption of chat.

So, it can be good practice to set your Average Speed to Answer (ASA) for live chat at around 20 seconds. If consumers have to wait too long for a response via chat there is always a risk that they might just pick up the phone, adding to repeat contacts and recurring resourcing problems.

Martin Wyatt

Martin Wyatt

To support this service level, it is good to allow advisors access to a knowledge base with text replies to frequently asked questions (FAQs).

If contact centres focus on empowering agents to manage live chat sessions quickly and efficiently, then adoption will increase, thereby reducing voice calls.

Thanks to Martin Wyatt at West Unified Communications

For more from our panel of experts, read the following articles:

Author: Robyn Coppell

Published On: 8th Apr 2019 - Last modified: 4th Jan 2023
Read more about - Technology, , , , , , , , , ,

Follow Us on LinkedIn

Recommended Articles

What Is an Acceptable Call Centre Waiting Time?
A photo of someone on the phone and checking the time
Waiting Time: What Is Best for Your Customers?
Pink phone with cat waiting by it
Industry Average- Acceptable Wait Time?
A photo of hung-up phones representing call abandons
How to Measure Call Abandon Rate